Never mind the videos. Have you ever cremated someone you loved?
After my grandmother’s funeral, we took her to the cemetery/crematorium and had one final goodbye ceremony just for the family. I lit some incense, knelt and bowed three times, then stood and looked one last time at her face, so waxen and unnatural and smelling sweetly from the preservatives, her eyes glued shut. She was dressed in her favorite outfit, and on her chest they had placed her favorite hat, the odd fake leopard-skin pillbox hat I had seen her wear not all that long ago, the last time I saw her alive.
And yet, even in my state of deep mourning, I smiled just a little as the Bob Dylan song Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat from Blonde on Blond began playing unbidden in the back of my head. I always thought my mental jukebox was a background process… Now I know.
The casket wouldn’t shut quite tight with the hat on her chest, so they handed it to my mother and closed the casket with a very final sounding thud. They screwed the lid down, and took it towards a door into the crematorium, which was directly adjacent to the chapel. At the last moment, my mother put the hat on top of the casket. We watched through a window between the chapel and the crematorium as they put it onto a conveyor belt.
I watched as the belt sped up and propelled her casket into the oven. A metal door slid into place after it went in. And even if there had been any more to see, I could not see to see.
Why do cremations require caskets? How else would the body, the shell of a loved one, go into the oven? Can you imagine it being stuffed in like a rag doll… Tossed in like firewood?